Legendary octogenarian blues harmonica player and singer James Edward â€œSnookyâ€ Pryor passed away on October 19. Despite his role as one of the architects of the post-war amplified blues harp sound, the media response has been shamefully lacking.
Mr. Pryor was born in Lambert, Mississippi in 1921. His inspiration for becoming a blues harp man was the blues cornerstone Rice Miller (Sonny Boy II) whom he met in Vance, Mississippi in 1927. Pryor busked around the South before being drafted during WWII. As a musician in the service, he played bugle calls on the camp public address system. It was here that he got the idea to blow his harp through the P.A., and is reputed to be the first to do so with the instrument, thus giving birth to the amplified harp sound.
Discharged from the service, Snooky took his big amped house-rocking sound to the streets of Chicago in 1945. Maxwell Street was the place many of the early Chicago blues greats got their start, hustling for spare change, jamming on the sidewalk. He ended up making some classic 78s and later recordings in the â€™50s, on the JOB, Parrot, and Vee-Jay labels.
Pryor eventually lost his faith in the music business and withdrew in the mid-â€™60s. A well-received return to recording in 1987 revealed him to be in full power, and Pryor enjoyed a fruitful latter-day career, recording for labels including Antoneâ€™s, Electro-Fi, and Blind Pig, on which his powerful 1999 disc, Shake My Hand, was released.
A memorable and founding voice of blues harp has been lost. - Tali Madden
Mr. Madden escaped New York a few decades ago, and still misses his egg creams. Aside from a brief flirtation with the Desert Southwest, he's been damply ensconced for half his life in Portland, Oregon. The freelance writer has written extensively on blues and jazz for outlets including the late Blues Access magazine, contributed to the MusicHound Blues and Jazz album guides, and produced and programmed jazz broadcasts for public radio.